When St. Petersburg resident Brian Burke’s air conditioning unit stopped working, he had no idea how he could afford to repair it.
“It’s pretty hard to live in Florida with no A/C,” said Burke. “There’s a business owner up the street who I know, so I talked to her about my A/Cgoing out and asked if she knew of any programs in the area.”
Burke’s neighbor recommended the Pinellas County Urban League, which administers the Weatherization Assistance Program for Pinellas County. The federal program began in 1976 as a way to reduce energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. The program funds weatherization improvements like new insulation, duct sealing, heating and cooling systems repairs or replacement, air infiltration mitigation, roof repair, mold remediation and installing ENERGY STAR lighting and appliances. Florida implements the program through a network of local providers like the Pinellas County Urban League.
“So since our inception of this program, we’ve been able to serve over 11,000 individuals in Pinellas County, which we’re very proud of,” said Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, President & CEO of the Urban League.
Now, even more residents will be able to benefit from the program as increased funding is coming to Pinellas County. In 2022, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal designated $3.5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program, with $93.6 million coming to Florida. U.S. Rep Kathy Castor says she’s been advocating to bring those funds to her district, resulting in an additional $223,000 to help the Pinellas County Urban League expand the program.
“[Burke] is not alone,” said Castor. “Across this community, there are so many of our neighbors who need these upgrades and retrofits to their homes to keep them healthy, to save money and to create jobs. This program creates jobs because they hire local contractors.”
Through the weatherization program, Burke was able to receive a new air conditioning unit, sealed ducts, a smoke detector, door sweeps, a water heater, energy-efficient light bulbs and an air filtration unit.
“Especially with my breathing and my heart condition, that helps,” said Burke. “It’s a blessing to have something like that.”
Gaskin-Capehart says applicants have to be at 200% of the national poverty level to qualify for the program, prioritizing seniors and residents with disabilities.
“That $223,000 that we received in October of this year will allow us to expand these programs in helping additional clients who aren’t necessarily already prepared for the weatherization programs,” said Gaskin-Capehart. “A lot of the local contractors that are here have had a major impact on the lives of our clients through this type of work.”
Castor and Gaskin-Capehart also touted the program’s money-saving benefits, emphasizing that helping low-income residents weatherize and update their homes leads to reduced electric bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, households that receive the Weatherization Assistance Program improvements and upgrades save on average $372 or more every year. Burke said the upgrades to his home have led to 30% lower utility costs.
“That,” he said, “was a godsend.”